After a catastrophic blaze in March of 1886 that left several hundred acres burned and a path of destruction that left livestock, farm buildings and even the school destroyed, the residents of the area that is now Hyattsville wondered what could be done to prevent such a horrific event in the future.
To that end, a solicitation was started for the purchase of a fire engine. The citizens contributed a total of $27 for that purpose.
A hand pump was purchased and a barrel donated; both were taken to the local blacksmith and mounted on a two-wheel truck. A small, garden-type hose was placed on the pump and the village’s first fire engine was complete.
The first fire that the little engine (or Barrel, as it was called) responded to was the home or Mr. Addison K. Smith on Railroad Avenue.
The fire alarm — the Presbyterian Church bell — was sounded at around 10:30 a.m. on October 6, 1888. The engine responded along with all the citizens, who carried every available vessel for holding water.
The home was occupied by Mr. J. F. Marshall, Mrs. Roberts and the Misses Stewart and Berry.
The fire had started in the upper floors. Fireman took their little hose line to the second floor and were making progress until the well supplying the water ran dry, at which point the citizens began to carry out the personal belongings of the occupants.
A call was made to the Washington Fire Department, and an engine was dispatched to the rail yards. A flatcar was moved to the loading dock, but a second call advising of the water condition cancelled the call.
The engine returned to its quarters. The big double house was now an inferno, and the neighbors began to pull down the fence that ran between the fire and the McFarland property.
Who had custody of the engine or where is was stored is unknown, but there must have been some problem. The Town Commissioners appointed two of their members to the fire department committee. One agreed to house the vehicle and a metal plate with the initials F.D. was placed over the barn door.